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Professional Gaming Takes Off in 2014

It’s easy to claim that eSports is a fad — something people will quickly grow tired of. But the numbers don’t back that up.

The number of eSports tournaments in North America should hit 47,500 this year, according to Battlefy, a Canadian eSports platform. That’s a 40 percent jump from 2013 and a 500 percent increase from 2011.

In 2013, there were 33,636 tournaments held in the U.S. and Canada. League of Legends was played more than any other game at those events, being the focal point at 7,565 tournaments. (Dota 2 was second, at 5,012 tournaments, and FIFA took third with 4,919 tournaments.)

All told, there were some 1.2 million players at the games. And while there was certainly some overlap among those players, the overwhelming majority — some 71 percent — played in only a single tournament, according to Battlefy.

“The eSports community is growing exponentially,” says Jason Xu, CEO of Battlefy. “If League of Legends remains popular, that franchise could attract a million participants in 2015.”

Most American players come from California, which claimed just under 26 percent of the overall participants. No other state came close. Washington, which had the second most participants, was closer to 9 percent.

eSports — aka professional gaming — has exploded onto the pop culture scene since 2011. While the idea of watching people play video games may sound dull, the speed and skill with which top players compete is on par with the NBA or NFL. And the fan base is rabidly enthusiastic.

Last year’s League of Legends finals sold out the 15,000-seat Staples Center in Los Angeles (home of the Lakers) in under an hour. (Scalpers were soon commanding prices of up to $2,000 per seat, having paid somewhere between $45 and $100 originally.)

Those fans are equally enthusiastic about funding tournaments. Earlier this month, fans of Valve’s Dota 2 competed for over $10 million in Seattle — a prize pool that was entirely crowdfunded.

And the finals were broadcast on ESPN. This is no fad.

Follow Chris Morris on Twitter.